Steps to Take Once You Decide to Divorce

By Lia Kopin-Green
/
May 31, 2022

Divorce can be both emotionally and financially draining for you and your spouse, regardless of how long you have been married. The divorce process comes with plenty of paperwork and legal processes, which can make a difficult decision seem even more overwhelming. However, being familiar with the divorce process and knowing how to properly prefer can help ease some of the stress. Here are several steps to follow after you decide you want a divorce.

1. Find a divorce attorney

Although it might seem strange to consult with a divorce attorney before informing your spouse, it can be helpful in some cases. Your divorce attorney can provide you with constructive advice on how to go about your divorce and how to break the news to your partner. Moreover, you can have your attorney send a respectful letter to your partner stating that you are filing for divorce and advising him or her that they may want to seek independent legal representation. This can help set the tone for a calm divorce.

2. Breaking the news

After plenty of research and reflecting, you have concluded that you want a divorce. The first step is to inform your spouse of your decision. Choose a time that will give both you and your spouse time and space to discuss the matter. Any threats or insults can later be used against you in divorce and child custody proceedings, so do your best to speak calmly and respectfully. Once you know for a fact that you are getting a divorce and your spouse has already been informed, you can tell your children. If the circumstances allow, it is best for you and your spouse to tell them together. By doing so, you show your children that although you and your spouse are separating, you are united in caring for them.

3. Organize temporary living arrangements

Upon filing for divorce, determining where you, your spouse, and your children will live is one of the most urgent issues to address. Living under the same roof with your spouse after you have decided to end the marriage is not always ideal, but it is sometimes necessary for financial reasons or the children’s best interests. Communication is crucial to maintaining cohabitation during divorce proceedings.

Alternatively, one spouse may choose to live with close friends or relatives. This is ideal if you can’t afford to pay for another property but cannot remain living with your spouse, for instance, in cases of domestic violence or child abuse.

In situations where the couple has more financial stability, one might choose to move out of the family home into a different apartment or house. One spouse could purchase another home to live in during the divorce process, but it is important to keep in mind that it could still be seen as marital property even if it was acquired towards the end of the divorce.

4. Start collecting financial information

Disclosure of financial affidavits is typically required by most jurisdictions, in which both parties disclose their budgets and incomes as well as any inheritances expected. Having a clear picture of your finances is important, as this will guide the court in deciding how to distribute assets and debts following the divorce. This process can be very time-consuming, so it's best to get the financial information together soon rather than later. 

Start by making at least two copies of:

  • Income tax returns (from the past 3 years)
  • Pension plan information
  • Investment account statements
  • Retirement savings account statements 
  • Social security statements
  • Employment records
  • Real estate deeds
  • Documentation for wills and trusts
  • Credit card bills of both the spouses and the children

You should have these documents both in paper form and in digital format so that you have access to the information at all times.

5. Gather evidence in fault divorce cases

There are two main types of divorce in the United States: no-fault divorce and fault divorce. Every state offers couples the option of filing a no-fault divorce, which means that there was no specific legal ground or individual at fault that led to the divorce. If the divorce was the result of a fault, however, the spouse must provide the legal reasons that led them to divorce. States typically recognize cruelty or abuse, adultery, abandonment, or felony conviction as fault-based divorce grounds. A petitioner in such cases must provide sufficient proof to the court that the respondent committed the specific fault alleged. For instance, in cases of fault divorce on the grounds of family violence, it may be helpful to provide documentation of criminal convictions or police reports.

6. File the petition

Now that you have all of your affairs in order, it is time to file a divorce petition. One spouse will file a divorce petition to the court and serve it to the respondent. The petition will include critical details regarding the divorce, like whether it's a no-fault or fault divorce.  Depending on your state, you may need to live separately from your spouse before filing, so check your jurisdiction's requirements so the court will not reject your case and you will need to start over. You will be asked to pay a divorce filing fee to the court, but if you cannot afford it you can complete a fee waiver request that the judge can choose to approve. Once your divorce is filed, the respondent will reply and initiate the exchange of documents.

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